Economic house of cards, ecological devastation
That the home building industry is the prime mover and catalyst of our ecological ruin was never more clearly illustrated than by statements recently made by University of West Florida economist Rick Harper, director of the UWF’s Haas Centre for Business Research. Harper argued that the real estate market would never recover from the current recession until population growth soaks up existing housing inventory and prices consequently begin to appreciate. “If we don’t stimulate population growth…we are going to take 10 years or more to recover from this recession”, he said, “we’ve had a huge overbuilding of the housing sector, there was just too much investment in residential structures.” He therefore advocates an easing of immigration standards to allow more people of higher education and net worth into the country.
The former Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, once offered Australia a choice. It could sustain jobs and economic security by using its brains, by being a smart economy, by adding value to the products it produces and by transforming manufacturing. Or it could continue to be a “lazy Australia” that depends on job growth simply by driving up population numbers and depending on the growth you get by building homes and shopping malls. And that is indeed what is it has done, adding a third to its population in less than three decades.
The Bush administration followed a similar course. By outsourcing decent working class jobs and tolerating the blatant mass employment of millions of low wage “undocumented” service sector workers they not only relegated 5 million Americans from the middle class but eviscerated what was left of the manufacturing sector. Land speculation and homebuilding assumed a greater importance in this new economy with a hollow core. Like a drug addict who has forsaken proper nutrition for energy, the new economy of real estate growthism relies on an immigration fix (and birth incentives to a lesser degree) for energy.
One fix never enough for an addict
But each succeeding fix requires greater injections to achieve the same jump start, and the cycle of boom and bust plays out with greater and greater consequences. More severe labour shortages, that call for more foreign injections, and the devastating ecological results, largely unsung, manifested in massive losses in prime farmland at a frightening pace and a cost in wildlife habitat that lies at the perimeter of expanding urban boundaries. Not to mention the greater energy consumption, waste disposal and pollution involved with never-ending urbanization. North American studies reveal that at most, rational land use planning could only mitigate half these problems. The other half are the inevitable consequence of largely immigrant-driven population growth.
Never enough fuel, never enough money
But real estate development itself requires fuel. It requires a favourable interest rate climate, and local governments bought and paid for together with their planning departments, staffed with growth managers who can converse in “greenspeak” and greenwash to assuage anxieties about their development plans. And of course it requires home buyers. People. The more the merrier. And where do people come from? Through the airport or the maternity ward, and the federal government is the gatekeeper at the first and most important port of entry, and quite influential in manipulating the volume at the other port too. Home buyers, in turn, have a requirement too. Financing. This holds the key, at least in Canada, to the demographic pyramid scam of the immigrant-propelled economy. For the big Canadian banks and credit institutions are not only the essential lubricants of home purchase and land development, but potent immigration lobbyists and influence peddlers as well.
Royal Bank of Canada
In fact the president and CEO of Canada’s dominant Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in 2008 reiterated the position taken by an October 2005 RBC report that the government should hike its annual immigration intake from its present approximately 240,000 to some 400,000. No doubt he would be speaking on behalf of his competitors in that ambition. What is most impressive about Mr. Gordon Nixon’s political strategy is that is conducted on a broad front. RBC realizes that the federal government may be the gatekeeper, but the environmental movement is the barking dog which must be silenced if the gate is to be left open wide for the avalanche of consumers that it wants.
So RBC laid out a Machiavellian plan. To cover their quest to underwrite the conversion of Canada’s best farmland to sprawling subdivisions and hundreds upon hundreds of species at risk to extinction in the process, they concocted an “Environmental Blueprint” that would signal to the environmental movement that “(they) support environmental sustainability”. They declared that would not for example“engage in new financing activities with corporations operating unsustainably in tropical rainforests or High Conservation Forests”. But the trees of urban Canada were presumably fair game, as are the rich fields of BC’s Fraser Valley and the Class 1 farmland of Ontario that is being developed at a pace of perhaps 60,000 acres per year. One might think that this kind of ecological damage, not to mention this threat to our national food security, would meet with the outrage of our environmental NGOs. Apparently RBC thought so too. That is why they bought their silence.
Silencing the barking dog
To prove their determination to “direct a significant portion of our philanthropic efforts to environmental causes”, they arranged to steer money to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) for each client who switched to electronic bank statements. A cute deal for both parties. NCC, always thirsty for dough, got a corporate bag man, and RBC got to wear a green cloak over its mercenary endeavours. It was not done for the environment, it was a strictly commercial transaction, ecological dispensation for suburban sprawl in return for cash and acquiescence.
Failure of environmental flagships
Many of us have been dumbfounded by the failure of flagship environmental NGOs like the Sierra Club of Canada or the David Suzuki Foundation to publicly contest the federal government’s mass immigration policy. NCC not surprisingly has been silent too, even though population growth is an obvious culprit in habitat loss. How could environmentalists ignore the Elephant in the Room? How could they ignore the obvious ecological impact of immigrant-driven population growth in Canada? Why didn’t they take the release of the Census report of March 2007, which revealed that Canada had the fastest growing population of all G8 countries, as an opportunity to attack government policy on this issue, and to educate people that population growth is a key variable of environmental degradation? That reducing per capita consumption without containing population is a futile enterprise.
Ideological myopia and donor bases
The answer was not to be found primarily in their ideological myopia, but in the examination of their carefully guarded donor base, which should, but isn’t, made easily available for public scrutiny. A look at the accounts of the David Suzuki Foundation reveals that the Royal Bank of Canada not only gave an award to the good Doctor, but is a significant contributor to his foundation. No wonder that Dr. Suzuki will not publicly say what he says privately. That the importation of people from low consuming third world countries to Canada so as to convert them to “hyper-consumers” is, in his words, “nuts”, and that industrialized countries are already overpopulated.
The Sierra Club is equally gripped with demographic lockjaw. The 2005 Report of the BC Sierra Club, the country’s largest, showed that the Toronto Dominion Bank and the Van City Credit Union empire, both big real estate lenders, were prominent contributors to their “environmental” organization. Given these contributions, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is retrospectively clear why it has been difficult to make Sierra Club directors understand the environmental significance of mass immigration “if their salary depends on not understanding it.” Or is it that they understand it, but they tell “the silent lie”. The lie of knowing that something of vital importance is true and needs to be told, but deciding not to tell it. In this case, to protect a donor base at the cost of the raison d’etre of the organization, and the environment itself. Bureaucratic self-preservation seems to take on a life of its own. Truth, integrity and courage are its casualties.
Arguably then, homebuilding is not the prime mover of ecological ruin after all. Nor is it the greed of developers or the banks that finance them, or the dreams of the people that flood in to buy houses. It is, in my judgment, the ‘green’ watchdogs who haven’t barked because big money has thrown them a bone.
Quadra Island, BC
Wed, 2008-12-31 15:14
Bob Carr's words spot on, but they are belied by his record
Very good article and, of course, not before time.
(Following Sheila Newman's complaint that my long comment completely crowded out Tim's excellent article, I have turned it into a blog article "Bob Carr's words belied by his record as Premier of NSW". - JS 1 Jan 09)
Jorge (not verified)
Wed, 2008-12-31 15:36
Anonymous (not verified)
Wed, 2008-12-31 16:34
One more insertion
Vivienne (not verified)
Thu, 2009-01-01 09:44
Australia has opted for the "dumb" route to economic growth
Tim M (not verified)
Sat, 2009-01-03 15:30
Marketing the product
Thu, 2009-01-08 12:19
Ethic and big business
Anonymous (not verified)
Mon, 2009-01-12 12:52
Environmental NGOs still merit most blame